The company of La Bohème will celebrate the opening night of its pre-Broadway U.S. premiere Oct. 15, the day San Francisco critics start coming to see Baz Luhrmann's visionary take on the classic Puccini opera.
David Miller and Ekaterina Solovyeva will play lovers Rodolfo and Mimi that night, and rotate later in the week with two other couples at the Curran Theatre, where previews began Oct. 1. The cast will celebrate the opening with a private party.
The romantic haze of Paris in the 1950s — the same world captured by the lens of photographer Robert Doisneau — glows pink and rich at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco, where performances continue to Nov. 10.
The City by the Bay is home to Luhrmann's retelling of the 1896 Puccini opera famously set in the City of Light. The director has se-set the work in 1957 Paris. Performances of La Bohème are presented in its original Italian, with English supertitles.
Lovers Mimi and Rodolfo were played by Russian soprano Ekaterina Solovyeva and American tenor David Miller for the first performance at the Curran, and two other couples — lean, sexy and in their twenties — alternate.
"We hope to tell this story in a way that will appeal not only to the people who love Puccini's music, but to the younger audiences who may never have seen an opera before," Luhrmann said in production notes.
The casting schedule for the first week of the Curran run had Miller and Solovyeva playing Tuesday and Thursday evening and the Sunday matinee; Lisa Hopkins and Jesus Garcia playing matinees Wednesday and Saturday; Wei Huang and Alfred Boe playing evenings Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. That schedule is to be repeated throughout the run.
No couple will perform more than three shows per week, though live theatre being what it is, the couples who rehearsed together and who appear in the print ads together may occasionally be broken up due to sickness or other circumstances (you can only imagine what couple might appear in the event of a nasty head cold, a blinding snow storm and halted public transportation some mid winter's night; that's when observers say theatre gets really exciting).
The young casts rotate because of the vocally-challenging nature of the Puccini score.
The same goes for the roles of Marcello and Musetta, which are each double-cast and will rotate, with no performer playing more than four shows per week.
On Oct. 1, Musetta was played by Jessica Comeau and Marcello is sung by Eugene Brancoveanu, alternating performances throughout the week with Chloe Wright and Ben Davis.
In San Francisco and on Broadway, director Luhrmann and designer wife Catherine Martin create a stylized world (complete with stark blacks, white and grays, splashes of color and a passerelle — a ramp that wraps around the orchestra pit). The orchestra is reduced to 26 from the larger number that would be heard in an opera house and includes an electronic keyboard. In another break from the opera tradition, the orchestra and singers are amplified, according to newspaper reports.
The first week of previews for La Bohème proved that even bohemians need to walk before they soar.
Director Luhrmann made curtain speeches before the Oct. 1-6 previews at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco to ask for patience — scene changes were still being worked out.
"Scene changes were taking longer than he would like," spokesman Chris Boneau told Playbill On-Line. "It's the age-old scene change issues that you deal with in previews."
No change took more than eight minutes (the changes coincide with the opera's traditional act breaks), Boneau said, and the show clocked in around 2 hours and 20 minutes during the first week. Some changes were made with houselights on and stage hands in view, but Boneau said that the directorial conceit of the show does indeed include the audience seeing the mechanics of the set change.
"Choreographing the scenery" fitting the set pieces together won't be an issue when it begins on Broadway Nov. 29 (opening Dec. 8) because the stage of the Broadway Theatre is much larger than the Curran's. On Oct. 15, the producers announced that the start of Broadway previews for the show would be delayed by three days from Nov. 26 to Nov. 29, to allow for extra tech time.
"We're doing exactly what we should be doing in San Francisco," Boneau said of the previews. "It's not like we're putting a new song into the second act. All weekend [Oct. 2-6] they were able to shave minutes off each time..."
It has not yet been announced who will appear in the roles for the Broadway opening night, which is the show that determines who is eligible for Tony Awards.
Joining the previously announced six international actors are Daniel Webb as Colline, Daniel Okulitch as Schaunard, William Youmans as Alcindoro and Adam Grupper as Benoit. The ensemble of La Bohème comprises Enrique Abdala, Christine Arand, Janinah Burnett, Gilles Chiasson, Charlotte Cohn, Michael Cone, Vanessa Conlin, Sean Cooper, Patricia Corbett, Evangelia Costantakos, Lawrence Craig, Dan Entriken, Graham Fandrei, Bobby Faust, Katie Geissinger, Jennifer Goode, Paul Goodwin Groen, Joy Hermalyn, Robb Hillman, Adam Hunter, Tim Jerome, Katherine Keyes, Laurice Lanier, Morgan Moody Marcus Nance, Daniel Neer, Debra Patchell Patricia Phillips, Jamet Pittman, Martin Sola, Radu Spinghel, David Steinberg, and Mark Womack. The production will also feature an ensemble cast of 16 children.
The Bohème cast numbers 50, and the performers are members of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) rather than Actors' Equity, which represents most Broadway actors.
Musical director Constantine Kitsopoulos conduct the orchestra. The opera has a legendary score by Giacomo Puccini — even those who avoid opera will recognize "Musetta's Waltz," if only from its interpolations in movies — and was first seen in 1896. The Luhrmann version was a sensation in Australia in its first staging in 1990 (which was revived, popularly, Down Under).
La Bohème's Broadway playing schedule (the same as the Curran's) will be 8 PM Tuesday-Saturday; 2 PM Wednesday and Saturday; 3 PM Sunday. Tickets ($20 $95) are available at (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432 7250.
For ticket information about the Oct. 1-Nov. 10 run at the Curran, call (415) 512-7770.
The doomed love affair between seamstress Mimi and the artist Rodolfo is set against the world of bohemian Paris in 1957. Luhrmann's La Boheme premiered in 1990, and became the biggest hit in the history of the Sydney Opera House and a sold-out sensation. It played return engagements at the Sydney Opera House in 1993, when it was recorded for video, and in 1996.
As previously announced, the design staff will include Academy Award winners Catherine Martin (scenic design and co-costume design) and Angus Strathie (co-costume design), Nigel Levings (lighting design) and Acme Sound Partners (sound design).
Onetime actor Luhrmann is internationally known for directing the films "Strictly Ballroom" (which he began as a play), "Romeo + Juliet" and the Academy Award nominated "Moulin Rouge." He has worked in film, opera, theatre, music and events management. With wife Catherine Martin, he is the founder and director of Bazmark. In 1988, he created the critically acclaimed opera, Lake Lost, with composer Felix Meagher, where he first collaborated with designer Catherine Martin.